The UCSB men’s volleyball team coasted into the weekend with sails mounted high and staffed by a tenacious crew, ready for uncharted waters. However, the Gauchos’ forecast failed to predict the twin storms that they would encounter.
Santa Barbara went into the weekend having added impressive feats to their resume. UCSB posted the last remaining undefeated record in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation and a commendable sixth place national ranking. But that was before its recent road trip up north. Friday night the Gauchos (5-2, 2-2 MPSF) were upset by a mediocre Pacific squad (2-4, 1-3 MPSF) and then couldn’t rebound on Sunday afternoon against No. 2 Stanford (5-1, 3-1 MPSF).
In Stockton on Friday night, UCSB failed to get it going early and lost the match convincingly (30-20, 30-28, 24-30, 30-27). The Tigers, who have been tired from playing a relentless early part of their season, came out rejuvenated. Pacific jumped out to an early 18-10 lead in game one and finished the Gauchos off by crushing them, 30-20.
The Gauchos rallied behind the solid play of senior outside hitters Alex Lienert and Andy Rivera who led UCSB to a respectable 30-24 win. Lienert and Rivera finished the match with team highs for kill totals, tallying 13 kills each. UCSB’s success in game three was not enough to spark a comeback as the Gauchos lost game four in an intense dogfight.
Pacific relied on the play of Aaron Wachtfogel and Tim Gerlach to knock off Santa Barbara. Wachtfogel finished the game by posting a match-high 20 kills, while Gerlach added 15 kills.
For the Gauchos, along with the solid play from Lienert and Rivera, sophomore middle blocker Justin Adams posted a team-high .688 hitting percentage, while senior setter Britt Galang added 52 assists to the cause.
Santa Barbara went into its contest against Stanford ready to pick up the slack. The two teams proved to be evenly matched the entire game. The game was ultimately decided by key plays in crunch time and the home-court frenzy of Maples Pavilion.
The No. 2 Cardinals defeated UCSB, 3-1, by a score of 30-26, 34-32, 26-30, 31-29. In game one, after Stanford jumped off to an early 18-11 lead, the Gauchos climbed back but ultimately lost. In game two, Santa Barbara, led by junior outside hitter Jan Carlo Zegarra and Lienert, found itself up 24-21. UCSB continued to serve and hit well until a game-point score of 29-27. The Cardinals then rallied behind star Curt Toppel to tie and eventually win the game, 34-32.
Games three and four were reminiscent of the close second game. Every time Santa Barbara got it rolling, Stanford would mount a comeback and squash its momentum.
Toppel was one of three Cardinal players with double-digit kills, he recorded a match-high 22 kills. Paul Bocage and Billy Strickland contributed 10 kills each to the Stanford win. Zegarra and Lienert did their part for Santa Barbara, notching 17 kills each.
The Gauchos must regroup quickly, as they are only two games into a four-game road trip. UCSB will travel to play No. 3 Pepperdine (8-2, 3-0 MPSF) at Firestone Fieldhouse on Wednesday and then take on USC (4-5, 1-2 MPSF) Friday night in the Trojan’s North Gym. After the next two matches, the Gauchos will have a chance to pay back the Cardinals on Feb. 8, when UCSB will host Stanford at Rob Gym.